Archive for September, 2008

The perils of cheese

Your friend knocks on your door one day, explaining that they just got someone to give them a new wheel of cheese.  Now, this cheese is guaranteed never to go bad, and he’s willing to give it to you as long as you cut him in on the resale of this giant wheel.  So you take this giant wheel and go to your friends and neighbors and explain to them that you have this giant wheel of cheese, and are willing to sell off slices of it for a little bit of cash.


Every slice you sell, you send a small piece of that profit back to the friend who first brought the cheese to your door.  After a few times of selling big slices of cheese, you notice that the people you sold the cheese too are cutting it into even smaller slices and selling it further.  People who don’t have the cheese are seeing how much money you and your friends are making selling this cheese.  Everyone wants this cheese.  Some are even using the demand for the cheese as a bartering tool to get other things- like apples, and pears.  The value of this cheese is enormous, and you and your friends are living large.


Only there is no such thing as cheese that ‘will never go bad’.  And so it does what it always does; it starts to rot.


Now the cheese is losing value; fast.  Some pieces are rotting faster than others, and now everyone’s trying to sell their cheese.  You start to lose business because your friends know that you were the one who had the cheese to begin with, you sold it to everyone.  Now everyone is trying to get back whatever value they can on this cheese; only no one is buying.  The cheese is rotting, and those who have it are trying to dump it; those who don’t want nothing to do with it.


Your main asset – the cheese – is worthless.  So you go back to your friend, the one who gave it to you initially, and ask them why they sold you cheese that was guaranteed never to rot.  They explain to you that the guarantee was under an understood umbrella of risk, and that you should have known that before you took the cheese.  In the context of his trade to you, the cheese was never to go bad, but in the real world, things are different.  You realize that because your friend made a profit off each transaction of cheese, he had everything to gain, and nothing to lose.  You realize your friend is kind of a dick.


So now you are left with a stockpile of bad cheese.  You can’t get rid of it, and you can’t just let it sit there; people have put their trust in you to purchase apples and pears because they used the value of the cheese to buy those things.  But with the cheese worthless, you can’t buy anymore apples and pears.  The people who sell apples and pears were having a boom before the cheese went bad, and now they aren’t selling as much.


The people who sell apples and pears are now hurting because they have a stockpile of apples and pears they were willing to sell for more cheese, only with no one now wanting to use cheese, the value of their apples and pears drops like an elevator in freefall.  No one is trading anything.  The supply is too great for the given demand.


Your Uncle calls you one day.  Let’s call the Uncle…Sam.  He tells you that he heard about how bad your cheese was, and how things are hurting, and would like to buy your cheese from you.  He says he has the cash to do it, and he has more than enough time to wait out the stinky cheese phase until he’s able to compost it to help the apples and pears people make some more of their stuff.  Plus, he has a knife, and is able to cut away the moldy parts to preserve the bits that are still good.  He said he’s even working on a way where he’ll be able to reverse the moldy parts of the cheese, but that’ll take time – time that he has and you don’t.


You hang up the phone, giddy with excitement.  So you call your friends, they call their friends, and pretty soon all of you guys are practically jumping up and down.  You’re going to be saved.  You start discussing deals that depend on you Uncle buying this cheese.  You talk with your friends about how much things are going to be worth.


Your Uncle calls the next day.  Your Aunt said she doesn’t want to do it.  She says that the money they were going to use to buy this cheese comes from their friends, and they don’t like the idea.  They think you’re an idiot for thinking that this cheese would never go bad.  They think that you need to understand what ‘risk’ and ‘investment’ mean.  They don’t understand how this affects them.


You inform them that their apples and pears are going to rot without replenishment because the people who make apples and pears don’t have the money to go back and buy more stuff.  You explain that you were deceived by the person who got you this cheese initially, and you took it on good faith.  You explain that if the cheese is gone, then the apples and pears people can’t afford seeds.  The seed producers can’t sell their seeds, and they can’t buy any more soil.  The people who make the soil can’t find buyers, so they go through hard times.  The people who deliver water to the apple and pears people see their demand plummet, so they have a slowdown.  You tell them that you need that money to keep this going, or times may be tough.


Your Aunt gets on the phone.  She says that because you used cheese as a commodity to buy things, you allowed your friends who sell apples and pears to make more money with goods that had an inflated value.  Everyone saw how much money you were making with this cheese – since unlike the apples and pears people you could dice it up and still sell it.  Your cheese took on a value that was much greater than it was really worth; because you tacked on this concept that it’ll never go bad.  She says that it’s unfortunate that it came to this, but this was there the entire time.  And she says that if they buy the cheese, all that’s going to do is take away the supply of cheese, not drive up demand.  She says that it’s not fixing the problem, it’s merely moving it from you and your friends to your Aunt and Uncle.


You tell your Aunt about your Uncle’s plan, about the knife and the magic way of making the stinky, moldy part go away.  Your Aunt says that knives are incredibly expensive, and the magic powder stuff works on bread, but it may not work on cheese; no one’s tried it like that before.  And her and your Uncle’s friends, the ones that are bankrolling this, don’t appreciate that they’re being asked to help out people who got into this mess to begin with.


Uncle Sam’s friends don’t like the idea of bailing out you and your buddies on Wallie Street.


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There’s a point in your day, fleeting as it may be, when you realize that you are separate from the world proper.  The characteristics that you took for granted before – the ones that bring you into the fold of what we deem ‘society’ – are jumbled or lost, and you are thusly left behind.  The world is a train, and it only heads one way.  Get on or watch it pass you by.


Staring at the flickering candlelight burning before you, providing the only illumination you have, you realize a few things.  Thinking of your grandparent’s parents, you realize that the current conditions you are experiencing are identical to theirs.  Around a century ago, they maybe didn’t have electricity either.  They experienced the cold loneliness of a darkened house much the same way you are.  And in much the same way, you begin to understand 2 things.


1.  That every memory they told you, and every photograph they have is of the family being outside.


2.  Why they had so many brothers and sisters.


Both of these are very closely related.  A darkened house with a soft, flickering light really only leads to one activity.  And with the absence of prophylactics back then, the results of that ‘entertainment’ become….. populous.


Sunday (day one) it was annoying.  We had rented movies and ordered take-out to treat ourselves to 4 hours of entertainment without having to do the dishes afterwards.  Instead we ate our meal as the winds outside sought to destroy humanity.


Monday (day two) it was confusing.  Normally, power-outages only last an hour or two – tops.  A downed wire, a blown transformer; it’s the job of the electric company to be able to anticipate and solve these little problems.


Tuesday (day three) it was romantic.  Candlelight inside, night outside, and a chill in the air that could only be warded off by blankets leads down a familiar and exciting road.


Wednesday (day four) it was depressing.  We didn’t know what was going on, only rumors that ‘sometime Friday’ may be the finish line.  We were noticeably upset.


Thursday (day five) we were exuberant.  Electricity was restored.  We were mildly pleased to say the least, but buoyed by the fact that there are people in other areas of the country who still see darkened houses when they head home.


Although, nature left us a present in our backyard:



She reminded us that she still calls the shots.

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The door squeaked loudly against the door jam as I forced it open to the decrepit back deck.  Someone had installed the wood trim incorrectly, forcing it to rub against the door every time some other person wanted to open it.  It was a call to the rest of the house that the back door had been opened.  And to the sixty-five pounds of labrador hurdling over the kitchen linoleum, it was a call that meant the back yard was how she was going to greet our visitor.


Opening the wooden fence, she could barely contain her excitement.  She made it around my legs easy enough, and took no notice to the large truck now in our driveway.  All she could see was the walkway to the front door and the sounds of her paws disturbing the gravel as she thundered away.  My voice was a distant memory, a forgotten command that took no precedence before what awaited her; someone to greet.  The world for that dog must be the polar extremes of the blackest despondency when we’re away to the most volcanic joy when we arrive.


“Hershey, down,” our visitor said.  “I have chemicals all over me.”


“Hey dad,” I say when I finally arrive.  I let the tradition continue.  My father continues to maintain the outer impression that our canine friends are no acquaintances of his, but a bigger ‘dog person’ you will never find.  Even as she leaps on him for attention, the sides of his eyes pinch up and his hands immediately go to area behind the ears; unfortunately his work today forces restraint.


We load the delivered boxes into the garage for our move to another city, and we talk a bit.  He takes a spot on the couch, opens a beer, and proceeds to let the worries and cares of the day evaporate.  Each anecdote shared along with each swallow help to ease him and transform him from ‘work’ to ‘home’.  I’ve seen it all my life; this seeming change of personality, as if the workday father has passed the torch to the home father and is now ready to finally be himself.  I wonder if my children will ever witness their father pass the mantle like that.


Stepping outside for a cigarette, he then asks me about the house.  As years of conversations have taught me, I debrief him with the correct listing of positive and negative features.  In proper matchstick man fashion, I’m constantly aware of my mannerisms, word choice, vocal fluctuations; all done to provide the proper tone and setting for each aspect of my newly purchased house.  I can see in his eyes the clockworks churning.  It reminds me of the sparse games of chess we used to play when I was little; battles of the mind where he was the obvious superior.  I’ve grown.  Life experience has shaped me.  Years of passive observation and background computation have allowed me to steer a conversation with my father as if I was drawing out his queen to eventually sunder his king.


The front porch dissertation finished, we head back inside, with me offering to show him the online listing on my behemoth upstairs.  He takes a seat next to me before my work computer and I can already see the confusion on his face.  They say certain things skip generations, and this I can be sure of.  While my father was busy trying to figure out a cordless telephone, I wanted to break it open and see how it worked.  When my dad was my age, his father regularly ripped things apart in the hopes of understanding things.  This quizzical and curious way of looking at the world is something my father and I don’t share.  His mantra has always been, if it works, why change it?  Mine has always been, if it works, then why not see if it works a different way?


Gazing upon my Mac, I scroll down to the dock and bring up Safari.  As my window to the internet opens and brings up my Google home page, my external hard drives spin to life, eager to assist me with work I need to get done.  In the background, AfterEffects and Cinema 4D churn away, displaying the final images of what I’ve toiled to create.  A few clicks and a keystroke or two and we’re hurtling across the web to our final destination.  The speed and ease of what I have just done is mystifying to my father.  Showing off pictures, he asks me if I know whereabouts in Vermillion this house is.  Click-click, type-type-type, click.  Google Maps is open and showing a satellite view of the house.  I scroll out and we see the distance from the house to ‘downtown’ Vermillion is only 3 miles, maybe less.  Some more typing, and we now have directions from my new house to his house, a driving time of 38 minutes, and nice highlighted line showing the driving path.


I accept this as simple fact.  No more of an amazing convenience than an oscillating fan.  But my father still has map books in his work truck that he uses to get around.  He wired his old college stereo into the television to give him ‘better sound’ (‘intermittently working’ is a phrase I’m sure he’s learning quickly).  The only technological gadget I’ve seen him buy recently was an indoor/outdoor thermometer with a digital readout.


I point out to him that if he wanted to spend the little extra money a month, he could easily have access to the entire world instantaneously.  But like most ‘debates’ we have, we each know the other person’s moves.  He points out that because his brother and my Uncle works at AOL, he gets dial-up for free.  I’ll once again ask him how much his time is worth while he waits.  He says he’s not in a rush.  I remind him he’ll be able to get more done.  Rook takes Pawn, Bishop takes Knight.


We bid farewell, him getting into his workspace with his analog world, me leaving to my workspace in the digital realm.  His job a life of outdoors and physical labor.  Mine of a spare bedroom and artistic endeavor.  Two opposites somehow related.  Both with only a passing interest in what the other does, merely as a curiosity of a different world.  Each peering through the glass into another life, a life so diametrically opposite of their own.


Returning to my computer, the Mail icon jumps to gain my attention over the status readouts of my renderings.  My father’s father, my grandfather, has sent me a YouTube video in reply to the one I sent him.  Three generations of the same lineage.  All sharing the same first, middle, and last name.  One an engineer, one an exterminator, one an artist.


As I look at the video, my mind is only passively paying attention.  I begin to realize that my grandfather understands more about technology than my Dad ever will.  He and I have the same curiosity and inquisitive nature about things.  Which makes me wonder if my son will share these traits with me, or will he have the same disconnect that I have with my father?


The cursor blinks as I pause writing this.  Its impatience forcing me to finish and complete that line of thought.  But I can’t.  Curiosity can only get you so far, apparently.

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New design and topical information

First, the photoblog was a great idea, until it came time to put more than one photo in each post.  And since I lack the skillset to design my own website, it meant that I had to forgo the one and only photoblogging theme available to me and go with something similar to this.


And I miss just writing without finding some kind of colorful billboard to throw at the top.


Currently – in addition to my normal job – I am developing a brand identity for a non-profit group that helps people unable to go about their day-to-day activities.  They have two sides; the obvious work side, and the volunteer-driven fundraising side.  The application aspect of this group is very well done – they have a nice logo, some glossy and clean (albeit generic) literature; but their fundraising side….is rather lacking.  Ironic.  Considering this is where the money is.


So, I decided to lend my services for free.  And after working on it for a bit today, I thought I’d share what that really means.  I notice that when I speak to my family and some of my friends, they don’t quite understand the full scope of it; least of all the billing side.


My job isn’t like a carpenter, or a plumber.  I don’t actually make an object you can touch or that really does anything.  People pay me to be creative.  Unfortunately, this means two things:


On the one side, you have people who practically jack off at the idea of ‘creativity’ and describe what they do as a soul-changing, life-affirming religious experience that will shake the grounds your reality and fundamentally shift all that we know about the universe.  If you ever want to see a great example for this, look at any flyer by a trade group that caters exclusively to graphic artists; especially ones for trade shows or get-togethers.  They almost make me want to vomit.


Take a look at the copy for the F5 festival in New York:


F5 is founded on the belief that true change occurs when you look outside your world and explore new horizons. The festival fosters creative collisions—unexpected insights from sources you didn’t see coming. The goal is nothing less than to change the way you think about your work and your life.


What the hell does that even mean?  These things are about 2 things, and 2 things only; how can I exploit the person I’m currently talking to for work/ideas/sex, and Is there an open bar.


On the other side, you have clients.  Now, I have to stress the importance of this; they made it half way.  They looked at their problem, and realized that they lack the skillset to solve it, and have therefore hired a professional.  Take a stab wound, for example.  95% of the time, you will have no idea how to fix this.  Sure, you may be able to get part of the way and stop the bleeding, or you may be able to at least stay aware of the situation (chronic blood loss aside).  But I’m willing to bet you can’t solve your problem completely.  So you go to a professional.  It’s at this point we start to have a problem.


The client has only made it part of the way.  Unfortunately, they still seem to have the strange urge to remind me that I am in fact working for them.  Which in the literal sense, is true.  However, the case can also be made that I may indeed know what I am doing, and am therefore somewhat qualified (if only in small part) to actually do my fucking job.


What I’m getting at is you don’t stop your doctor at the point he or she is about to save your life and say, ‘You know, I don’t want to step on any toes, and I know I’m not a doctor, but I’d like to see if you could do this by continuing the knife in its original path and try removing it from the other side.’  You trust that this person understands all the details involved and is therefore qualified to make the decisions necessary to make for a desirable result.  Yet, at the same time, both you and your doctor know that you are the one with the money, and he or she is the one working for you.


So when a client sees my work, and instead of saying ‘I like this detail’ or ‘I don’t like that detail’, but tells me in precise detail of what to do to solve this problem, it causes some ire.  I get a little testy.  I start to think, if you’re so accurate in your assessment of what you want, why did you hire me?  Why did you have me make these mock-ups to show to you if you are perfectly capable of visualizing what it is you want?  Why did you waste my time?


I should’ve gone to med school.

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